media release

SFU research initiatives aim to improve health outcomes

Partnership projects look to reduce preventable hospital visits related to medication problems, improve heart health management

March 04, 2016

Ellen Balka,
Scott Lear, 778.782.7916; 604.682.2344, ext 62778;
Marianne Meadahl, University Communications, 778.782.9017/604.209.5770


CIHR release:

New funding for cost-efficient health care programs will benefit two Simon Fraser University health research initiatives. One aims to reduce preventable visits to hospital emergency departments associated with adverse drug events—unintended harmful events resulting from medication use—by as much as 30 per cent, the other is a peer and social support program for heart disease patients.

They’re among 22 projects to receive $13.8M in financial support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) eHealth Innovations Partnership Program (eHIPP). Another $32M will come from partners.The CIHR is providing $1.4M for the SFU partnership projects, which will receive additional funding/support through their partnerships.

SFU communication professor Ellen Balka, who specializes in health information technologies, is the project lead for Pill Talk. She is working with funding partners PHEMI, the BC College of Pharmacists, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and numerous other collaborators, including PharmaNet, B.C.’s computerized system for recording prescriptions.

Balka says adverse drug events are a leading cause of hospital and emergency department (ED) visits and hospital admissions, accounting for 12 per cent of emergency visits.

“That’s more than 200,000 ED visits in B.C. annually, incurring costs of approximately $90 million,” says Balka, who holds a University Professorship at SFU. “Currently, information about adverse drug events is not well documented and not communicated to PharmaNet. Information gaps exist, which the Pill Talk system will fill.”

Balka says as many as one third of preventable adverse drug events could be avoided by designing new ADE reporting fields in PharmaNet, saving as much as $18 million annually. The project will implement and evaluate an ADE reporting platform through PharmaNet and integrate it into various means of delivery of clinical care.

Meanwhile health sciences professor Scott Lear is collaborating with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada to roll out a platform called Curatio to patients with heart disease across the country.

The application allows these patients to connect with each other from anywhere, and helps make life better for patients and their families. The Curatio digital health platform provides private support networks along with personalized tracking tools that make daily disease management easier.

Lear says Curatio is the world’s first social health prescription with a mission "to put support in the palms of every patient on the planet." The company, which started in Vancouver, is noted for its effective approach to patient engagement. The platform is available at

“With escalating health care costs we are constantly looking for new ways to improve patient care,” says Lear, who also holds the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital. “Through our study we found that patients could effectively ‘crowd-source’ the collective wisdom of other heart patients to help improve their self-care and manage their disease.”

Says SFU Vice-President Research Joy Johnson: “Addressing health care challenges effectively is a team effort, inclusive of expert input from all of our innovation communities. These two projects pair university researchers and companies to co-develop solutions that will improve health outcomes for Canadians."


  • The CIHR program is designed to stimulate collaboration between health researchers and Canadian innovative technology companies.
  • eHIPP’s goal is to bring academia and industry together to ensure that eHealth innovations are being co-developed, tested with the people who will need them, and evaluated for their cost-effectiveness.
  • Through e-HIPP, CIHR and its partners —including organizations from the private, public, and non-profit sectors—eight of the 22 projects target youth mental health and 14 are focused on seniors with complex care needs in their homes.


As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far.Today, SFU is Canada’s leading comprehensive research university and is ranked one of the top universities in the world. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 35,000 students, and boasts more than 135,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities

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